Lonoke’s Casey Martin is getting a head start on his future this summer in Batavia, Ohio.
Martin, Arkansas’s Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year — Lonoke’s first such honoree — will play for the Arkansas Razorbacks starting this fall.
But he is spending his summer — along with a number of other Division I signees — playing for the Midland Redskins, according to their website “arguably the best amateur baseball” program in the country, having produced 13 Connie Mack national championships, 76 Major League players and 46 first-round draft picks.
“It’s great — basically heaven,” Martin said recently in a phone call from Ohio. “The coaches are really cool; the players are all cool. It’s an amazing organization. We’ve got 25 or so players, all rising freshmen except for one or two.”
Besides Martin, the Redskin roster also includes Southeastern Conference players Casey Opitz, a catcher from Centennial, Colo., who will also play for the Hogs; Tyler Brown (Vanderbilt) and Cam Hill (Kentucky).
“We’re just a bunch of college kids having fun,” Martin said.
He and Opitz are living with a host family — parents of one of their coaches — for the summer. They have been busing to several out-of-state tournaments and will fly to Farmington, N.M., for the Connie Mack World Series in early August.
He said he started the summer in the outfield but had moved to third by the time of the phone call.
“I like short, but it’s the infield, so I know how to play it,” he said. “I’m not going to pitch, even at Arkansas. That’s over.”
Martin, a 5-11, 175-pound senior shortstop/right-handed pitcher, hit .595 as the Jackrabbits’ lead-off batter this spring with 10 home runs, 13 doubles, six triples, 32 RBIs and 48 runs scored. He stole 34 bases. On the mound, he went 5-1 with three saves and a 1.52 ERA.
Martin is Lonoke coach Chris Foor’s second Gatorade Player of the Year, having also coached D.J. Baxendale (2009) at Sylvan Hills. Baxendale, who also played at Arkansas, is now playing AAA ball.
“Where does Casey sit with him? In all true respects, he’s the best,” said Foor, who arrived at Lonoke last summer. “D.J. is a very special player. He is going to make it in the major leagues. But looking at the overall skill set compared to the best in the nation, Casey brings all five tools to everything he does.”
He explained that major league tryouts measure players on a 1-5 scale on fielding, hitting, throwing, running and power.
“Casey would be a 4 or 5 in all of those things,” Foor said. “I have three kids in the minors right now. Those were all very talented, driven kids, but watching how Casey goes about his work, I think he’s right at the top of that.”
With a new coach, the Jackrabbits finished 21-13 and won the school’s first state tournament game since 2012 before falling in the Class 4A state quarterfinals in May.
Martin said he was proud of his best season as a Jackrabbit.
“We became very strong on and off the field,” he said. “We were close off the field. Overall I was extremely proud of how we came together and overcame our differences. That definitely brought out our best on the field. I couldn’t ask for a better season.”
Foor said Martin had evolved into the ultimate team player.
“You can banter with him, but as soon as the umpire says, ‘Play ball,’ he turns into a different person,” the coach said. “When I met him between his freshman and and sophomore year, he was a hot head. His summer coach and I worked on channeling that, and when I got here (last summer), he was channeling for himself wonderfully.
“I told Casey, ‘Our goal is for you to channel that with your teammates.’ He didn’t leave anybody else behind. He didn’t carry himself that way. He would let you know, ‘I’m good,’ but also that his teammates were good. ‘We’re doing this together.’”
Martin, the son of Keith Martin and Jennifer Martin, has an older brother, Cody, who walked on at UA-Monticello. While growing up, he said, he played with players two years older than he was, so he was always “the smallest guy on the field.”
“So I set my standards really high,” he said. “I wanted to be the best player out there. If I’d go 2-for-4, .500, that’s amazing, but that wasn’t good enough for me. I knew I was better than that. That’s what helped me.”
Martin said he had always been a Razorback fan.
“I always wanted to be a Razorback,” he said. “When they offered me, it was like a dream come true. I was very grateful. The Lord has blessed me with the athletic ability to play the game I love.”
He committed to Arkansas the summer after his sophomore season, choosing the Razorbacks over Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Arkansas State, UALR and the University of Central Arkansas.
“Just great people overall, an amazing coaching staff, and the facilities are beyond belief,” he said. “They provide everything you need. They want to make sure academics are covered. They will help you in any aspect you need.”
Martin graduated with a 3.18 GPA and said he hoped to study sports management.
“His teachers all love him,” Foor said. “He’s got such a fun-loving personality. He’s a kid who would do anything for you. After the season, I was looking for one of my batting tees for inventory. I called Casey and he called one of the other player. He had that responsibility as one of our team leaders all year long.”
Martin said he took seriously that role as team leader.
“A lot of the kids looked up to me,” he said. “Since I was committed to Arkansas, they see me as a great baseball player, but I think they also see me as a great friend on and off the field.”
He is a big believer in leading by example.
“You don’t get on people after they make a mistake,” he said. “It should be more like, ‘OK, I’ve been there — I’ve gone 0-4’, just basically telling them it’s not just you that makes mistakes. It’s baseball — baseball is a mental game, and you have to be mentally strong to play the game.”
Martin flew back from Ohio to attend the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s All-Arkansas Preps Banquet, honoring the best athletes in every sport. Former Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith was the speaker.
“Hearing him talk about him believing in himself, that he was better than anybody, sets the standard for how I think,” Martin said. “That’s definitely what I think. That’s what I did, and I set my standards high like he does.
“One day I hope I can be good like him.”
Don’t bet against him.